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Umatilla County Sheriff seeks state funds for jail revamp

Umatilla County started noticing an unprecedented number of inmates with mental health diseases, medical issues or drug addiction.

PENDLETON, Ore. - Some months back Umatilla County started noticing an unprecedented number of inmates with mental health diseases, medical issues or drug addiction.

Umatilla County, Sheriff Rowan said this includes people suffering from epilepsy to heart conditions, creating a new problem for holding cells.

“Trying to find that safe and secure place is the challenge,” said Rowan.

He said local resources for this population really diminished over the span of 15 to 20 years.

“This facility will support 210 inmates and our average general population is 218 but we've seeing spikes as high as 237,” said Rowan.

Sheriff Rowan said they currently don't have enough holding cells for inmates suffering from mental health issues.

Rowan said, “Our belief is this population that we're dealing with, especially those of mental crisis, historically were the states responsibility.”

However, funding for local options have been cut.

“Over the last several years those resources have been diminished locally and so we’re left to come up with creative solutions to contend with this population,” Rowan said.

He said recently they have been forced to move inmates with crisis to another part of the jail that may not be as secured and may not provide the quality care they should be receiving.

Rowan said, “We're shifting them in rec rooms, where there’s no facilities, we're shipping them in just open spaces wherever we can find them, shy of putting them in general population.”

The fix would cost a total of 800,000 in renovation and in addition, they plan to add a camera system and control panel that opens and closes the doors.

Sheriff Rowan said, "Not necessarily growing outward but re-purposing certain areas in the jail to create more holding cells for this population."

“What we want to do is create an environment that is safe for them, safe for my staff and more appropriately suits those demographics, we're seeing today.”

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